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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Wednesday August 19, 1998 (Vol. Three; No. 135) 


Carville Still Credible; Starr's Zealotry; "We Like a Virile Leader"

1) Lanny Davis, James Carville, Ann Lewis etc. still treated as credible by the networks despite months of deceit.

2) ABC and NBC skipped a Democratic Congressman's call that Clinton resign, only Lisa Myers reported that Clinton asked about witness intimidation, Brokaw worried about Starr's "zealotry."

3) To ABC's Sam Donaldson the Clinton family walk to the helicopter displayed Hillary's anger at Bill, but for NBC's Claire Shipman it showed family forgiveness and togetherness.

4) Time's Margaret Carlson insisted passing "campaign finance reform is more important in the end" than Monicagate.

5) An actress declared: "He's been playing around for years. But that's why we like him. We like a virile leader."

 >>> "TV Morning Shows Highlight Polls Asking If Starr Probe or Impeachment Hearings Should Be Stopped: Drop It, and Reward Seven Months of Lies," the latest MRC Media Reality Check fax report is now up on the MRC home page. The text of this fax report by Tim Graham was distributed to the CyberAlert list yesterday. One noteworthy question, this one from Good Morning America's Lisa McRee to linguist Deborah Tannen: "Women who've been polled seem to put it behind them as well, and are willing to move on and forget about it. Is that because Bill Clinton's been such a great President whom they elected in great part, or is there something I want to say almost sexy about a man who can get away with things over and over again?" <<<

Correction: The August 18 CyberAlert misspelled the name of U.S. Representative Bill McCollum.


cyberno1.gif (1096 bytes) You'd think that after telling falsehoods all year about Clinton's denial of sex with Lewinsky, and maliciously maligning Ken Starr, Clinton allies would have lost some credibility and no longer be considered sources worth listening to. But no, there they all were on Tuesday's morning shows: Ann Lewis, James Carville, Lanny Davis etc. While they were asked some tough questions about Clinton's deceit, their answers were treated as credible.
     Here's an incredible question, caught by MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens, by Today co-host Matt Lauer to James Carville, who has lost all credibility, but hasn't in networkland:
     "How can the President, James, restore his credibility with the American people after this episode?"


Mchale1cap.jpg (22394 bytes)cyberno2.gif (1451 bytes) Fallout from Clinton's Monday night mini-speech dominated all the networks on Tuesday night, with each devoting over half their air time to the subject which led them all.

     In various ways each network emphasized how Clinton had refused to answer some questions during his Monday afternoon testimony and that he is in real political trouble. On ABC, Sam Donaldson's spin favored Clinton as he announced that "the prosecutors pushed Mr. Clinton unmercifully to describe graphic details of his moments with Monica Lewinsky." ABC's Jackie Judd added that Clinton was surprised by the level of detail in the questions. On NBC Lisa Myers uniquely reported that prosecutors quizzed Clinton about intimidating witnesses, such as Kathleen Willey.

     Democrats on Capitol Hill offered tepid support for Clinton, a point made by all the networks, but ABC failed to air any soundbites from Republicans or Democrats. Of the broadcast networks, only CBS told viewers that a Democratic Congressman, Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, had called for Clinton to resign. Both CNN and FNC reported the first Democrat to urge resignation.

     All the networks featured pieces on the public's reaction, mainly how while they may not trust Clinton they want the investigation ended. And Tom Brokaw ended Nightly News by taking a shot a the "judicial zealotry" of Ken Starr.

     Here's a run down of highlights from the Tuesday, August 18 evening shows made possible with the transcribing help of MRC news analyst Paul Smith who stayed late to pitch in:

     -- ABC's World News Tonight. Sam Donaldson described the internal battle of the speech content, using clips from Clinton's speech to illustrate:
     "None of the President's problems appears to have been ended with his speech last night as he hoped they would be. A speech crafted only after an internal struggle which was won by the hardliners. On one side were the President's political advisers, led by Paul Begala and Rahm Emanuel. On the other, was the President's lawyer David Kendall and Mrs. Clinton. Both sides thought he had to confess that he lied to the country last January and he did....Both sides thought he had to express some remorse, and he did....But the political advisers wanted him to go further, to actually apologize to the country and ask the country's forgiveness and pledge to be a better President. He did not. Instead the hardliners got the narrow, legal document they wanted....And the tone of personal defiance concerning the Clinton's private life. Above all the hardliners got the attack on independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation the polls said might be popular but the political advisers thought unwise."

     Donaldson continued: "The intense dislike of Starr was only heightened by yesterday's questioning of the President in the White House Map Room. Sources say the prosecutors pushed Mr. Clinton unmercifully to describe graphic details of his moments with Monica Lewinsky. The President refused citing privacy grounds, understanding that if he were to describe details that fit within the definition of sex used during his Paula Jones deposition last January, he would be admitting perjury. When his testimony was over, the President is said to have been extremely angry at Starr which helped seal the tone of his speech."

     Donaldson concluded by telling anchor Forrest Sawyer:
     "Usually after Presidents have addressed the nation in moments of difficulty, their aides fan out immediately to declare victory, telling reporters how many favorable phone calls have come in and how their internal polls have gone sky high but today there was almost none of that. Today, basically, there was silence. Another indication Forrest that this President knows he's in real trouble."

     Next up, Jackie Judd reported: "Monica Lewinsky has been summoned back to the grand jury Thursday at the request of the grand jurors themselves who want to question her, possibly about discrepancies between her testimony and that of the President. Sources familiar with Mr. Clinton's testimony say the President was surprised by the amount of detail and knowledge that prosecutors had about his involvement with Lewinsky. That element of surprise, according to the sources, led the President to frequently confer with lawyer David Kendall...."

     From Capitol Hill Cokie Roberts delivered this somber assessment of where Clinton stands, but she did not run any soundbites from congressional leaders:
     "There is a lot of anger here from both Democrats and Republicans, people furious at his statement last night, seeming to place the blame someplace other than on himself. And some Democrats, genuinely upset, saying that they had believed the President, they had taken him at his word, he had looked them, some of them personally in the eye, and said that this was not true and now they're questioning not only his credibility but what they should do about it."

     After an ad break ABC reporters checked in with reaction from around the nation, each illustrated with local man on the street soundbites.
     Ron Claiborne: "Here in Chicago, we were struck by the number of people who thought the President was less than honest and candid in his speech. Even some people who characterized themselves as supporters say Mr. Clinton is still playing word games and hiding behind lawyerly distinctions."
     After anchor Forrest Sawyer noted that an ABC News poll found 59 percent thought Clinton said enough and should not resign, he went to Brian Rooney: "Here in Seattle, even the people who don't like the President are uncomfortable with the government inquiring into his personal life. Most people seem to think that his public admission of doing wrong is good enough for them."
     Sawyer noted that most don't think he should be impeached even if he lied. Then Dean Reynolds reported: "Here in Greenville, a conservative city in a conservative state, we met a man who said he was very dissatisfied with the President's remarks especially when he said he'd been asked to answer questions that no American should have to. Well heck, said this man, he's not just any American, he's the leader of our country. We put him up on a pedestal and it's his responsibility to stay up there."
     Finally, after Sawyer highlighted how 69 percent have had enough of the investigation, JuJu Chang found support for that view: "Here in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the home state of John F. Kennedy, many say it's not the first time a President has acted scandalously in his personal life. It's simply the first time one has had to fully confess to it. In this heavily Democratic, working-class town, many feel this investigation has not uncovered a criminal act but a personal one and that it should end."

     -- CBS Evening News. "Ken Starr relentlessly pursues Bill Clinton and his presidency," Dan Rather teased at the top of he show. Rather then delivered this dramatic opening: "President Clinton and his family left Washington today but not questions about the future, even the survival, of his presidency."

     CBS went first to Bob Schieffer: "This cannot be what the White House was hoping for. Most congressional Democrats who spoke out offered only tepid support. Dick Gephardt, the ranking Democrat in the House, Tom Daschle, the top Democrat in the Senate, said it was time for the country to move on but they expressed disappointment in the President's personal behavior."
     After soundbites from both Schieffer highlighted this statement from Senator Diane Feinstein: "My trust in his credibility has been badly shattered."
     Unlike ABC and NBC, Schieffer focused on how "Pennsylvania Congressman Paul McHale became the first Democratic officeholder to call on the President to resign."
     McHale: "I think that he has made a genuine contribution to our country. I also believe he has lied under oath."
     Schieffer to McHale: "This must have been a very difficult thing for you to do."
     McHale: "It was awful. I have sympathy for the President. Nonetheless, I think there is accountability when any citizen, particularly the chief executive, deliberately lies under oath."

     Republicans were "even harsher," Schieffer noted in reporting that Senators Ashcroft and Coats also called for his resignation. "No one was angrier than the usually mild-mannered Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee," Schieffer asserted before Orrin Hatch fired: "Frankly, you know, the way he treated Ken Starr last night, yeah, last night he was a jerk."

     Scott Pelley described Clinton as the instigator of the confrontational attitude Monday, not Starr as Donaldson had implied:
     "Dan, sources familiar with the President's testimony yesterday tell CBS News that the President was defiant, sometimes combative, when questioned by prosecutors. He refused to answer key questions that go to the issue of whether he committed perjury. In his address, Mr. Clinton said his previous testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit was, quote, 'legally accurate.' But when grand jurors tried to find out more about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, he refused to answer."

     Pelley concluded by emphasizing the disgust of staffers:
     "Mr. Clinton spent much of the day personally apologizing to members of Congress and members of his staff. Most were gracious but one source tells CBS News that some of Mr. Clinton's advisers, quote, 'were disgusted' and felt betrayed."

     Bill Plante in Martha's Vineyard showed the big airport welcome where Clinton was embraced by Vernon Jordan and Carley Simon. Later, Jerry Bowen delivered public reaction.

     Wyatt Andrews assessed the status of Clinton's legacy, lamenting what could have been:
     "He wanted his presidency to be about the big things, fixing Social Security, confronting racism, improving education. But instead of mending Medicare, his year has been about Monica. Does anyone even remember the President's agenda this year? He had a plan to find 100,000 new teachers. He planned to stick big tobacco with a $1.50 tax hike and told working women they'd get child care with the money. And he promised to help low-income workers. Did any of that happen? Barring some future crisis, historians say, Clinton's substance may be overshadowed by scandal..."

     -- CNN's The World Today devoted its first 40 minutes to about a dozen Monicagate stories. Wolf Blitzer began the show by relaying that "Sources familiar with the president's testimony tell CNN Mr. Clinton himself drew the line on giving specifics when he was asked whether he and Lewinsky had oral, manual or phone sex, as she has testified. The sources also say the President's lawyers were surprised by how explicit the questions were. They had thought, incorrectly, that once the President conceded a sexual relationship, the prosecutors would have been more restrained...."

     Bob Franken checked in from the courthouse where Dick Morris appeared, on Capitol Hill Candy Crowley, who highlighted Paul McHale's call for resignation, found Clinton "has lost the benefit of the doubt." Mark Potter described the reaction of tourists in DC before Brooks Jackson carefully analyzed Clinton's words, trying to explain how Clinton could say his deposition answer about not having sexual relations with Lewinsky was "legally accurate" when he had definitively stated "I did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky." Jackson concluded:
     "He did not say I lied to you nor did he say I'm sorry. Confession is not Bill Clinton's style. Verbal gymnastics are. He's a lawyer skilled at using words that say precisely something other than what they seem to mean."

     Other CNN stories looked at Clinton's legacy, the reaction of young voters, how Clinton may break off his vacation to push popular issues like HMO reform, Al Gore's statement, the plight of Hillary Clinton and how female callers to talk shows in Los Angeles were upset about Clinton's behavior.

     -- FNC's Fox Report. Amongst several stories FNC's David Shuster relayed that Dick Morris "has told friends that President Clinton in January wanted to know about sex addiction." FNC then interviewed Morris, a FNC analyst, about his testimony.

     Much later in the show Carl Cameron reported that Attorney General Janet Reno is "closer than ever" to naming an independent counsel for fundraising, prompted by new evidence about fundraising calls by Clinton and Gore from the White House. Cameron noted that Senator Orrin Hatch would find an inquiry on the calls too narrow given all the charges about foreign influence. Reno has put her decision off to next week, Cameron concluded, "to give the White House some breathing room."

     -- NBC Nightly News. Lisa Myers delivered some unique information about topics raised with Clinton:
     "Legal sources tell NBC News that much of the four hours was spent on what for Starr is the key issue, whether the President encouraged others to lie and obstruct justice. One source says the President was questioned about the use of private investigators to intimidate witnesses such as White House volunteer Kathleen Willey who claims the President groped her. Legal sources say that it was clear from some questions that the testimony of presidential confidant Vernon Jordan was not especially helpful to the President. Jordan found Lewinsky a job about the time she filed a false affidavit denying a relationship with the President...."

     Myers concluded: "Starr is determined to make this the last chapter. One in which he writes the script in the form of a report to Congress this fall. A source close to the investigation believes the President's performance yesterday gave Starr new ammunition."

     Andrea Mitchell provided a story on the importance of overseas reaction before Jim Cummins revealed: "The White House is hoping the President's four minute speech accomplished three goals."
     He found they did in two of the three: "First, to make the American people believe Mr. Clinton, that he's now being candid with them. So far, it may be working. The new NBC News poll shows three-fourths of the people surveyed believe the President is now telling the truth about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, with women more likely to believe him than men....The second goal of Mr. Clinton's speech, according to the White House, to show contrition. He's sorry for lying to the American public. In his speech Mr. Clinton did not say the words 'I'm sorry' and today many Americans disagreed about whether the President truly feels he did something wrong."
     After some mixed man on the street comments, Cummins continued: "The third goal of the speech, closure, to help end Ken Starr's investigation. The NBC poll shows, of the three goals, the President may have come closest to achieving this because that's what most Americans already believe. Of those who watched, more than half agree that Mr. Clinton has already adequately answered all of the questions about the Lewinsky matter."

     Next, Anne Thompson explored how to talk to kids about a scandal involving honesty: "In school, nine year old Marisa Rosado learned America's first President, George Washington, couldn't tell a lie but found out its 42nd second could." Thompson added:   "It's a gray area in a child's world of black and white making the difficult job of raising kids even harder. Now along with violence, drugs and divorce parents must also deal with the sex and lies surrounding America's leader."

     Finally, at the end of the show Tom Brokaw delivered these comments about why Americans have lost faith in Washington, but instead of putting the blame on Clinton for lying for seven months Brokaw portrayed Starr and everyone else as just as culpable:
     "What makes this scandal so discomforting is that it involves elementary behavior and personal relationships everyone can identify with. Secret sex, tape recordings of a friend, a media frenzy, judicial zealotry [Starr video], self righteous criticism, lies, betrayal, family and friends. As his own worst enemy the President is in a class by himself, but there are no common heroes, no one player who has the universal admiration of a grateful nation. They may emerge, but it's hard to see how now that so much has been spilled out into the public in such a self-serving, and for some, infuriating fashion.
     "At a time in America when so much is going so well there is a longing for the simple satisfaction of looking to Washington and saying, 'there's someone I can believe and believe in.'"


cyberno3.gif (1438 bytes) Every network showed video of the Clinton family walking across the South Lawn Tuesday afternoon to the helicopter, but ABC and NBC offered conflicting interpretations of what it demonstrated about the state of the Clinton family.

     On ABC's World News Tonight Sam Donaldson began by reading a statement from the First Lady's office about how "she believes in this marriage, but clearly this is not the best day in Mrs. Clinton's life." Donaldson illustrated, announcing over video of Hillary, Chelsea and Bill walking to the helicopter, with Chelsea between her parents:
     "And indeed when the Clinton family left the White House this afternoon for their delayed Martha's Vineyard vacation she never looked up, he was tight lipped and unsmiling as they walked with daughter Chelsea between them. At Andrews Air Force Base, as the Clinton's boarded Air Force One, observers winced at the body language as she brushed past him in the doorway."

     NBC viewers, in contrast, got a message about family forgiveness and togetherness. From Martha's Vineyard reporter Claire Shipman opened her top of the show story: "The White House message today, the President has said his peace. It was tough, it was embarrassing and now it's over. A translation for Ken Starr and the rest of the country, Bill Clinton has already paid a terrible price both with his family and legacy and his family, for one, seems ready to forgive."

     Then, over the same video of the three walking to the helicopter, Shipman suggested:
     "There was no better picture than this to make the point that this is a family still very much together. [video zoomed in on Bill and Chelsea holding hands] And just before the Clintons flew off on their two week vacation to Martha's Vineyard, Mrs. Clinton offered a public display of support for her husband through a spokeswoman."


cyberno4.gif (1375 bytes) On one channel Monday morning Time's Margaret Carlson urged viewers to get beyond Clinton's scandalous behavior to pass campaign finance reform while on another Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame dismissed any correlation between Nixon's actions and this "sex scandal."

     -- ABC's Good Morning America brought an audience inside, MRC analyst Clay Waters noted, to ask questions of guests. Responding to one Time's Margaret Carlson conceded that Clinton "bears the larger part of the responsibility" for foisting this tawdry episode upon the American people, "but there is one point to what Ahmet and the other person [in the audience] have said, is that campaign finance reform is more as important in the end, and we don't give that as much attention."

     -- On CBS's This Morning, MRC analyst Jessica Anderson noticed, Jane Robelot proposed to Carl Bernstein:
     "Today's testimony may be the pivotal point in Mr. Clinton's presidency. Our CBS News consultant Carl Bernstein played a key role in exposing the defining crisis of another presidency not so long ago: the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. Mr. Bernstein joins us this morning to help put today's events into perspective. Are there similarities? Is this the pivotal day in the Clinton presidency?"
     Despite Clinton's seven months of lying and delaying, Bernstein maintained: "It's obviously the pivotal day. This is not Watergate. Watergate was about a vast and pervasive abuse of power by a criminal President of the United States, who ordered break-ins, fire-bombings, presided over a coverup and obstruction of justice in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid to burglars, a President who hired a goon squad to thwart the electoral process, who abused his presidential authority. This story, the Lewinsky events are really a sex scandal, in which there are allegations that the President lied under oath and may have obstructed justice. There's a big difference in proportionality."


cyberno5.gif (1443 bytes) Tuesday's Entertainment Tonight relayed Hollywood reaction to Clinton's predicament. Most are baffled about why such a big deal is being made about his private life. The show picked up this bit of wisdom from actress Amy Brenneman, who I think once had a role on NYPD Blue, at the premiere party for a new movie about infidelity titled Your Friends and Neighbors:
     "I think Hillary knew. I mean c'mon he's been playing around for years. But that's why we like him. We like a virile leader. We liked JFK."

     I can't think of a closing line that could top that.  -- Brent Baker

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